What can school leaders do to promote wellbeing?
If you’ve been told that pupils come first, they don’t. You come first as well. Dysfunctional teachers cannot teach dysfunctional pupils. Mental health has to be on an equal footing.
Harry Fletcher-Wood tells us in his book Ticked Off: Checklists for teachers, students and school leaders,
“There are school leaders out there who don’t believe staff well-being is important or is a priority; there are some who believe that ‘We’re doing if for the kids’ and that’s sufficient. Bluntly, I would counsel no one to work for anyone who takes such a view.”
Staff well-being is getting a lot of coverage these days and as teachers we have to make sure it stays on the radar and remains high-profile.
Whilst there are lots of things we can do as individuals to stay mentally and physically robust we must also rely on our schools to do their bit as well and be responsible employers.
Look After No. 1
Every school should have a Staff Wellbeing policy that supports staff health to minimise the harm from stress and workloads. If it doesn’t then you are not likely to feel valued, supported and encouraged to develop personally and professionally. It’s a given that there is a dynamic relationship between healthier more positive staff, pupil achievement and school improvement.
Senior Leadership Teams and Governing bodies need to work towards a school ethos where all staff are valued, where respect, empathy and honesty are the cornerstones of all school relationships.
There are many initiatives and guidelines that have been suggested and implemented over the years and they all feed into the wellbeing body of ideas and they all serve a purpose for someone. However, sometimes I think we try too hard and whilst it’s certainly worthwhile to organise yoga sessions and in-house spa-like treatments, what we basically need is just to get out together.
Are You In?
In his book Leadership Matters, Andy Buck makes this very point. He says that we need to remember to “plan for plenty of occasions where staff can socialise together and enjoy themselves in a more relaxed environment. It is a chance for you to show your staff team that they are valued and respected, but it is also another way to build relationships and make sure people have fun together.”
Note the use of the word plenty here. One-off shindigs are okay but that’s all. You can’t build close-knit teams with an isolated knees-up down the pub at Christmas and expect the feel-good factor to carry you through until July.
The most effective school teams plan a range of social activities away from school throughout the year. This captures more people as not everyone will be able to attend every event. There are no limits to what you can do together and these needn’t be expensive jaunts or ventures. As Buck says,
“The dividend from spending resources on providing for some special occasions will unusually reap huge rewards. It builds trust, momentum and a sense of well-being, all of which builds a schools capacity to develop its people.”
It would be unusual to spend whole days out together with your work colleagues but I have been part of day trips to the seaside for a dose of sea air, fish and chips, a paddle, crazy golf, a go on the dodgems and a bit of sightseeing. Then there have been plenty of afternoon and evenings out such as ten pin bowling, meals, mountain biking, cinema, indoor, climbing, art exhibitions, tours of a local attraction, comedy nights and go-karting. These have all been good for moral and helped people let off steam with plenty to talk about the day after and beyond.
Some of the best trips though have been far more focused on team-building as a concept and it is these that also need to be built into your plans. I’m talking something like a woodland adventure where you go climbing over high rope obstacles among the trees and end by zip wiring through a forest. These events focus your mind on something completely different and involve supporting each other through various scenarios, a fear of heights perhaps and developing new skills that you wouldn’t get just be sitting in a bar sharing a glass of wine – that can wait until afterwards!
Corporate team building events might get a bit sneered at and you do need to select carefully but an activity where staff are engaging with each through problem solving, getting some much-needed fresh air and being outside of their comfort zones can work wonders. It will certainly be exciting!
Staff might be knackered and find plenty of reasons for not joining in but encouraging staff to see each other outside of work can really work for everyone and help us manage the demands of a mind-boggling complex profession.
As John Tomsett says in his book This Much I Know about Love Over Fear,
“The best thing for students is a happy, motivated staff; by putting the staff equal first with the students you are doing the best you can do for the students.”
All we need to do is mix, mingle and moan to decompress the pressure cooker as a single staff. White water rafting anyone?